Blogathons are a great opportunity to be introduced to new genres, films, and talents. For me, that has certainly been the case for The Third Hammer-Amicus Blogathon. Because this was my first time watching any Hammer-Amicus production, I had to research which title I would write about for the event. On Wikipedia, I stumbled across the 1972 film, Vampire Circus. The film’s title immediately caught my attention, as I’ve never seen a vampire led circus before. Movies revolving around vampires are no stranger to 18 Cinema Lane. As of October 2021, I have reviewed five vampire films, with Vampire Circus now being the sixth title. These projects have received favorable reviews, with each one being enjoyable to varying degrees. How will Vampire Circus fare among the other vampire films I’ve seen? Keep reading, as the show is about to begin!
Things I liked about the film:
The acting: As I said in the introduction, this was my first time watching any Hammer-Amicus production. But during my experience viewing Vampire Circus, I could tell the actors and actresses involved were invested in their roles! Whenever a circus is incorporated into a story, the ringleader is usually a man. So, it was interesting to see a woman leading a circus in Vampire Circus. Confidence and a no-nonsense attitude are the traits I associate with a circus ringleader. While portraying the Gypsy Woman, Adrienne Corri effectively brought those traits to her character! Adrienne also had the ability to command attention from the audience. This is due to the strong on-screen personality she presented.
While watching Vampire Circus, I was impressed by the performances of the younger actors and actresses. Two of these stand-out performances came from John Moulder-Brown and Lynne Frederick! Portraying Anton Kersh and Dora Müller, these actors had surprisingly good on-screen chemistry. They also performed well together and individually. John and Lynne’s interactions felt believable, like their characters truly cared about each other. It made me wish they had starred in a production of Romeo and Juliet!
The historical accuracy: Vampire Circus takes place in the 19th century, which contains the years 1801 to 1900. As soon as the movie started, I noticed the creative team’s focus on making their production look historically accurate! Two of the characters, Anna Müller and Jenny Schilt, wear dresses that appear like they came directly from that time period, reminding me of stories like Pride and Prejudice and American Girl’s Caroline series. The costumes for the male characters are also reminiscent of these stories. The props and set designs were historically accurate as well! A good example were the circus wagons. Their structural build reflected the classic circus images seen on antique posters and art work. The signs for “Circus of Night” and the “Hall of Mirrors” presented an art style that was present during that time. With all these elements coming together, I felt transported to the 19th century!
Introducing the “photogenic vampire”: I have heard people give Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles series credit to creating the concept of “photogenic vampires”. But personally, I think Vampire Circus deserves that credit, as the movie was released before Interview with the Vampire was published. The vampires in Vampire Circus appeared beautiful, looking like potential supermodels. A perfect example is Emil, who was also a circus performer. One of the young women in the town of Stetl, Rosa, develops a crush on Emil after the circus’ first performance. When you take one look at Emil, it is easy to see why Rosa would be interested in him. This simple creative decision allowed Vampire Circus to make a significant contribution to the world of vampire stories!
What I didn’t like about the film:
Confusing parts of the story: The Bürgermeister’s daughter, Rosa, is attracted to Emil, one of the circus performers. In one scene, she is telling her mother how Emil is not like other guys, as he has traveled the world and is more cultured because of it. But in earlier scenes, we don’t get to see these characters converse with one another. All that is provided to the audience is Emil and Rosa meeting at the circus for the first time and seeing them have intercourse shortly after they met. How would Rosa know all that information about Emil if she barely spoke with him? Did she and Emil talk with each other off-screen? This is just one part of the story that I feel needed context.
The underutilization of animals: When the circus comes to the town of Stetl, they bring three animals: a panther, a tiger, and a chimpanzee. Throughout the film, the chimpanzee and tiger stayed in their cages. Meanwhile, the panther was seen out of its cage about two or three times. In the world of film, animals are a part of a production to either be showcased as naturally as possible or to be shown doing something cool. In Vampire Circus, when there was an opportunity to prominently feature the tiger, a dancing woman painted as a tiger took its place. With all that said, it makes me wonder why there were animals in the movie at all?
Inconsistent traits among the vampires: In fiction, there are many different vampires who carry a variety of skills and traits. Within Vampire Circus, however, the traits of the vampires felt inconsistent. Two of the vampires in the story, Heinrich and Helga, are sensitive toward crucifixes. But when a crucifix is presented to the Strongman, he ends up crushing it with no sensitivities. Does this mean the Strongman wasn’t a vampire or was he simply not bothered by crucifixes? Over the course of the story, Emil is revealed to be a shapeshifter. At various moments in the film, he transforms into a panther, the same panther the circus brings to town. Meanwhile, as I mentioned before, the tiger and chimpanzee stayed in their cages. Was Emil the only shapeshifter in the circus? Were the animals simply animals?
My overall impression:
Vampire Circus introduced the concept of “photogenic vampires”. For this, I will give the film credit where it is due. But when I think about this 1972 production, I’m confused of what its intention was. On the one hand, all the actors and actresses seemed invested in the roles they were given. But, on the other hand, a stuffed animal could be plainly seen during a scene where a group of characters were attacked in a forest. Was this movie supposed to be “so bad it’s good” or a horror movie with a pinch of humor? There were also parts of the story that I found confusing. However, the film was interesting enough to keep me invested in what was happening on screen. Therefore, I found Vampire Circus to be just ok.
Overall score: 6 out of 10
Have you seen any Hammer-Amicus films? Are there any vampire films you enjoy watching? Please tell me in the comment section!
Have fun at the movies!